Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Happy Cat, Lucky Cat: Maneki Neko Welcome You to Japan

Photo: celiaintokyo on Flickr

Happy Cat, Lucky Cat: Maneki Neko Welcome You to Japan

Joel Neff

From the legendary sleeping cat of Nikko to the “cat island” in southern Ehime, cats of one stripe or another are featured in many aspects of Japanese culture.  Among the most popular are Maneki Neko.

Maneki Neko are the small statues of cats with raised paws found throughout Japan.  They often sit inside the door ways of small shops, or at the cashiers’ station in restaurants where they are thought to invite customers in to spend their money, thereby making the shop or restaurant more prosperous.  And they make fantastic souvenirs for yourself or to take home to a friend.


Photo : mandam on Flickr
In fact, the phrase “maneki neko” actually means “inviting cat” or “beckoning cat.”  (In Japan, to beckon someone, place your hand in front of you, palm to the ground and bend your fingers inward.)  However, these days, Maneki Neko are often sold as charms or talismans for your keychain or dashboard in the hope that they will bring good luck or good fortune to the bearer.

Because of this, Maneki Neko are often known as Lucky Cats, Good Fortune Cats, Happy Cats, and, sometimes, Money Cats, as well as Beckoning Cat or Welcoming Cat.


Photo : Antonio Tajuelo on Flickr
The variety of available Maneki Neko can be overwhelming.  For anyone wanting to take home a souvenir, making sure to get the “right” lucky cat can be a challenge.  Rest assured, though, there really is no set form that the Maneki Neko has to take.

No one can say for sure where or how the Maneki Neko originated.  There are several folktales that purport to teach the one, true story, but none of them have a great claim to veracity.  One theory is that the amount of creativity and style individual crafters can put into their Maneki Neko is one of the factors that led to their ubiquity.


Photo : Sarah on Flickr
The main color of Maneki Neko is usually white, gold, black, or red.  White indicates happiness, gold brings money, black provides for good health, and red helps with love and relationships.

Maneki Neko with their left paws raised bring customers to your business, while figures with their right paws raised bring luck and money.  Cats with both bring, well, both.  Additionally, some people say that the higher the paws are raised, the better the fortune to come.

Many Maneki Neko figures are either holding, wearing, or sitting on an accessory or two.  These can include collars and bells, coins, fish, and a small hammer, all of which are meant to help bring luck and fortune to the cat and its owner.


Photo : poppet with a camera on Flickr
And, again, for those shopping for a Maneki Neko of their very own, the options and choices available are astounding.  On the high end, many pottery stores and crafters have their own take on the Lucky Cat, not to mention sculptors and painters.  On the low end, there are several different toy figures available, ranging from ¥50 pencil toppers to slightly more expensive dashboard toys that use solar energy to beckon with their paws.

So as you go about your time in Japan, keep an eye out for any Maneki Neko who might be beckoning to you.  You never know what good fortune awaits!